With increasing fossil fuel scarcity and its accompanying inexorable price increases, it only stands to reason that sail will once again rule the waves of commerce.

For a quick primer and recap on peak oil and its implications read the remarkably prescient 1972 report by the Club of Rome “The limits to Growth”. Google it. They also published a newer revised edition which is worth reading, with refined projected trends.

More recently, the excellent hirsch report spells out the issue of peak and subsequently declining world fossil fuel energy and its implications.

Also this peak resources site has a good concise overview of peak everything.

I also wrote a quick primer on the issue here.


So i present a few present day sailing commercial ventures;

Tres Hombres hauled out

Notice the conspicuously absent propellor!

An oceanic schooner that has been operating for the last three years now under sail only and thus proving that it is economically feasible is “Tres Hombres” pictured above. From their site   http://eco-freight.com/ ;

«A load of organic products
She can carry a cargo load of 45 tonnes, which was unloaded the conventional way with pulleys and cargo boom by the ship’s colorful captain Arjen van der Veen, and the crew. He and his partners Andreas Lackner and Jorn Langelaan are behind this Dutch initiative, which is now realized with this ship, aptly named, “Tres Hombres”.»

and you can see their itinerary here; tres hombres  itinerary

Modern small Thames Barge

Ceres dockside.

Another sailboat that is proving to earn its way in a consistent way, altough on the inland waterways is the Ceres, a  Vermont sail freight project, a kind of miniature modern hard chine version of a Thames Barge called “Ceres”, which can transport up to 10 tons , if i remember right.

Another site encouraging putting sailboats to use moving freight is the sail transport network.

Project greenheart design

Proposed project greenheart design.

Then we have the green heart project;

«The Idea
is to create a new type of low-cost, zero-emissions small cargo ships that use environmentally clean and sustainable sail and solar power, to provide needy coastal communities around the world with an affordable means of transport. Such ships can help impoverished coastal and island regions improve their standards of living, while preserving their traditions and protecting the environment. In addition, we will use the publicity generated by such an inspiring enterprise, to promote Fair Trade, renewable energy and international cooperation»

Gaia's dream proa

Gaia’s dream, a modern cargo proa

Another brand new project is the 21.6 M proa “Gaia’s dream” meant for sail transport in the pacific.

Saveiros in Bahía.

Saveiros in Bahía.

In many areas of the world, working sail persists to this day albeit in diminished form. One of many worldwide examples is the Brazilian Saveiro, used for general cargo in the state of Bahía. In Bahia de todos os Santos, there used to be 1400 of them transporting produce, sugar, lumber etc. Now they number but twenty, but they still are gainfully employed. Once a year they gather for a spirited race. I found the Saveiro “È da Vida” is for sale for 80 000 R . That price tag suggests to me that they are still quite appreciated.

Saveiro o È da Vida

O “È da Vida” na venda.


I myself have been compiling data on the cost of transport by truck (which is notoriously inefficient) along the eastern Brazilian coast, by rate of ton mile. At the same time, i’m drawing up a design for a “fruit schooner” * for transporting produce & other items along this same coast and gradually putting together an estimate of its cost of construction as well as running costs, to see how it compares economically against transport by trucks. Any sources of data sent to me would be appreciated. When i am done with the report i will post my findings here.

Cargo schooner

Preliminary croquis of the 20 M fruit schooner intended for transporting up to 25 tons of produce.

Note that there are a few errors in the above crude rendering. It is just a preliminary version of the design to have something to refine the calculations with at this stage.


Global decline and sailboats brings us to the concept of sailboats as “survival pods” allowing hasty escape from areas that plunge into violent crisis. Long term though, all boats are dependant on the land for resources; food grown on the land, and maintenance materials for the boat. Barring those that have enough savings to live on for extended periods, this implies that the boat must be economically productive enough to pay its way.  A number of present day cruisers sustain themselves by writing, which is a line of work that is independant of location. Others offer portside itinerant services, most usually repair and maintenance of other boats, but which can be almost anything that uses a toolset that is small enough as to fit in the boat. Neither of these strictly require a boat though, meaning the boat is merely a mobile home, not fully realizing the potential inherent in it being a boat.

What you don’t see much of is cruisers running cargo, but it may well be a practical option for living on the water in an economically sustainable way, either on spec or as a tramper, but this does require a boat that can do this practically, and most yachts are hopelessly unsuitable for the task. Designs for cruising sailboats that can also easily transport merchandise may therefore be of value in coming decades.


* What i call it a fruit schooner is something like the ‘banana boats’ of the Caribbean of yesteryear with simple, practical, handy and fast small cargo boats for general transport. transporting perishables obviously implies consistent speed is an important design feature.


Regrettably i may be posting erratically for the next few weeks if at all as i have terminated my internet contract and am deep into getting the boat ready for turning over this last chapter. But in a couple of months or so i should be back to weekly postings. Those curious to find out if it was one leaky boat adventure too many or not can subscribe and get notified when the posts resume.